Van Alen Launches “Ecologies of Addiction”


On Thursday in London, Van Alen Institute and Imperial College London’s Sustainable Society Network will be presenting the new Ecologies of Addiction research initiative. Launched earlier this month, the initiative aims to investigate relationships between addictions and city form. In September a team from King’s College London–led by neuroscientist Dr. Andrea Mechelli, landscape architect Johanna Gibbons, and artist Michael Smythe–were selected to develop an app-based study of the impact of the urban environment on impulsivity and addictive behaviors, and how that impact interacts with a person’s individual characteristics. Following the presentation on January 29th, the team will present their findings in May 2015 at a series of public events in London, and in June 2015 in New York City.

“Addictions present a huge challenge, and we think that a better understanding of how they work spatially can shed light on many other aspects of well-being and how it is impacted by environment,” explained Van Alen’s Executive Director David van der Leer.

Click here to learn more and sign up to attend Ecologies of Addiction presentation on Thursday, January 29th, online at

Dencity Competition 2015 Call for Entries


As part of the launch of the nonprofit Shelter Global, co-founders Patrick McLoughlin and Chad Johnson initiated the Dencity Competition to address rapid urbanization around the world. With the intent to generate ideas and raise awareness, Dencity is seeking project ideas from architects, planners, students, engineers, designers, thinkers, and organizations that show how “design can empower communities and allow for a self sufficient future.” Three winners and five special mentions will be awarded later this year. Registration to participate closes March 15, 2015.

Rapid world growth and urbanization is not allowing cities to adapt and provide for their inhabitants. Towns are quickly growing into cities, and some of the densest places in the world are comprised of makeshift homes, otherwise referred to as slums. Furthermore, already overcrowded cities have to absorb people leaving their rural hometown in hope of job opportunities. There are currently over 1 billion slum dwellers in the world. This number is expected to reach 2 billion by the year 2030. Now, more than ever, we need to play a central role in the development of substandard neighborhoods. Slums effect much more than just housing; they affect almost all living conditions and communities as a whole.

Click here to learn more and register for Shelter Global’s Dencity Competition, online at

Toigetation Provides Basic Sanitation in Mountainous Vietnam


Around the world, 2.5 billion people lack access to basic sanitation and more than a billion people still defecate outdoors. With this amount of waste discharging into soil and waterways, human health near these areas is at a higher risk. In the mountainous Vietnamese province of Cao Bang, the 1,700 inhabitants of the Son Lap Commune are part of this population lacking sanitation infrastructure. Hanoi-based H&P Architects recently worked with this community’s school to build a replicable $300USD toilet facility, complete with a vegetated trellis for shade and solar panels to electrify lighting for nighttime use. In three weeks, local residents, teachers and students hand-built Toigetation using local materials. With this prototype currently in use, H&P hope this replicable toilet facility can be easily adopted by Vietnamese communities lacking access to proper sanitation.

Currently 88% of schools in [the Vietnamese] countryside have no toilet meeting criteria by the National Ministry of Health and a quarter do not have [a] toilet completely. Son Lap School has a total of 485 students from kindergarten to secondary levels with more than 10 classes at the main school, 4 branch schools and some staff housings. None of them meets the minimum standards, specifically in terms of sanitary and washing facilities. Thus, a space including toilet + washing area + vegetation is very urgent to the school here in particular and in Vietnam countrysides in general.

Click here to read more about Toigetation, online at

10 Finalists Selected for’s Zero to Five Challenge


Over the past three and a half months, ideators from around the world have been working on solutions to improve the lives of parents and young children through and OpenIDEO’s Amplify challenge. From 431 research contributions to 441 ideas to 31 refined ideas, the pool of projects have been narrowed down to 10 top ideas for the Impact stage. Over the next three months, the Amplify Team and experts will take a deeper look at these ideas and select a handful to receive seed funding and support from designers. Take a look at the finalists (including quite a few recognizable organizations!) who have been working on how parents in low-income communities ensure children thrive in the first five years.

Integrating Micro-Insurance for Families into Agricultural Cooperatives

Led by Eastern Congo Initiative & Local Partners in Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Eastern Congo Initiative plans to introduce community-based health insurance to agricultural cooperatives that it has been providing financial, administrative and technical support to in the DRC.

Enhanced Kangaroo Mother Care

Led by Embrace Innovations in India

Embrace Innovations is developing a line of low cost products that increase the adoption of Kangaroo mother care – skin to skin contact between mother and premature children known to increase infant survival.

SHISHU Newborn Parenting Kit

Led by Ayzh in India

Ayzh, a social enterprise based in India, is prototyping a ‘First 48 Hours Kit’ that contains the basic items and information parents need to fight infection and encourage thriving after returning from a clinic or hospital.

Preventing Illness Through Improved Flooring

Led by ARCHIVE Global in Bangladesh

Diarrheal diseases among young children are often caused by soil-borne pathogens. ARCHIVE Global has developed a simple solution to this problem – replacing dirt floors with concrete.

Tracking Maternal Depression & Child Growth

Led by Childhood Neuropsychiatric Disorders Initiative in Nigeria

CDNI proposes to leverage Nigeria’s National Immunization Program to screen for postpartum depression among mothers. Addressing depression in mothers improves the health of the central figure in a child’s life and has the potential to promote mother/child bonding and improve childhood outcomes.

Group Care for Child Health

Led by Possible Health in Nepal

This idea disrupts the traditional pediatric care model (one doctor, one patient) by leveraging existing social networks to provide group care. The aim is to increase the uptake of health services and decrease mortality, neonatal sepsis, diarrhea and malnutrition.

Promoting Local Nutrition Solutions

Led by International Youth Empowerment Network in Central Uganda

During their research, the International Youth Empowerment Network discovered that many parents think that healthy, nutritious food is too expensive or difficult to access and prepare. Through village health teams, parents and community council leaders, this program will provide information on healthy food combinations, recipes, budgeting and time saving food preparation techniques.

School-Based Mobile Clinics for Health Education

Led by Village HopeCore International in Kenya

Village HopeCore International runs after school clinics providing basic health services to children at 72 schools in rural Kenya. Their idea is to expand their programming to include workshops for parents about raising healthy children, reproductive health and early development.

Tailored Support Groups for Young Mothers

Led by Jhpiego in Kenya

Young mothers between the ages of 14 and 24 years old are often in vulnerable situations and may not have access to developing the skills they need to give their children the best start in life. Jhpiego would like to create support groups for these women, providing information about early childhood, parenting and a forum to discuss the challenges that they are facing.

Using Packaging for Education and Play

Led by International Institute for Communication & Development in Malawi

Families around the world use packaged goods on a daily basis. Recognizing this, the team saw opportunity to repurpose the packaging of common household products to serve as resources for education and play.

Click here to read more about the Zero to Five Challenge Finalists, online at

Impact Design’s Unsung Heroes of 2014

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Black-tie galas, TED talks, and the six o’clock news – there’s no shortage of praise for people making major impact in the world. But for every Gates Foundation and Khan Academy, there are thousands of brilliant, passionate people toiling away on problems relevant to their communities and the world at large. At last, they get a spot in the limelight as Impact Design Hub and Makeshift Magazine proudly salute these ten Unsung Heroes of 2014. More

4 Teams Advance in ‘National Parks Now’


“Too few people realize what a huge resource these smaller national park sites are for local communities and for larger urban networks—as an escape and as a part of people’s everyday lives,” remarked Van Alen Institute Executive Director David van der Leer. To attract the next generation of park visitors, Van Alen Institute and the National Park Service selected four teams of young professionals to work on project concepts for the National Parks Now competition. With a $15,000 stipend in hand, the teams are working with stakeholders to develop digital tools, hands-on workshops, self-led tours, interactive installations, and outreach campaigns to attract more diverse audiences. In the spring, one winning team will be selected to receive an additional $10,000 to create and implement a prototype during the summer. The four finalist teams and sites are:


D-Rev Launches Brilliance Pro


Award-winning product design non-profit D-Rev released the new streamlined Brilliance Pro today. Launched in 2012 to treat newborns with jaundice in developing countries, the second version in the Brilliance suite of products builds on learnings and user feedback from the original Brilliance Classic. With nearly 43,000 babies treated by Brilliance Classic thus far, the new $500USD version will help D-Rev continue to provide newborns with essential treatment.

“Brilliance Pro reflects D-Rev’s design process in action: learning from our customers and updating our products to meet and exceed their expectations,” said Krista Donaldson, CEO of D- Rev. “We believe Brilliance Pro will help us reach further, giving under-served communities access to world-class healthcare and decreasing the number of newborns who die or are disabled as a result of severe jaundice.”

Click here to learn more about the new Brilliance Pro, online at

Oversized Backpacks Deliver Cheap Local Energy


Produced from organic waste like cow dung and farm cuttings, biogas is a lightweight, clean burning energy alternative to wood and charcoal. Since 2011, German engineer Katrin Puetz has been developing a pilot concept for “Biogas as Business”–a ‘last mile’ of distribution from a central biogas digester site to local’s homes. Her efforts resulted in a product line of biogas backpacks to transport the gas. After testing the concept for a year in Ethiopia, Puetz and two partners set up B Energy to develop a sustainable franchise business model.

To help villages calculate their “biogas potential,” Puetz has a calculator at her site. You just need to enter how many cows you have and other available substrates (e.g. cuttings). It estimates the size of digester needed, and the amount of gas you can produce. The full systems cost about $600, but that doesn’t include shipping or installation.

Click here to read more about B Energy on, or click here to read FastCoExist’s article on the biogas backpacks on

Architecture for Humanity Closes Headquarters


We are deeply saddened to hear that Architecture for Humanity is closing its headquarters. As covered in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and ArchDaily, despite reducing staff and selling assets, the financial strain on the organization led to filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. Architecture for Humanity has been a pioneer in bringing socially-conscious architecture and design to the public’s and profession’s focus for 15 years. Many chapters have pledged to continue independent operations, including London, Monterrey, Chicago, and New York. As we await Architecture for Humanity’s formal announcement, the field of impact design has a lot to learn from them about building and sustaining a global organization.

“While there are open questions about the culture and finances of this organization over many years, there is no question that they put humanitarian design on the map,” said John Cary, the former executive director of Public Architecture, a nonprofit based in San Francisco. “One of the things Architecture for Humanity did best was capture the public’s imagination about the potential of design, particularly in times of disaster, in a way few before it ever had.”

Read more about Architecture for Humanity’s closing on New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and ArchDaily.

Dean Fisher Leaving UMN College of Design


Last week University of Minnesota College of Design Dean Thomas Fisher announced he was stepping down in June. In 18 years at the helm–a decade as dean of the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture and 8 years as the inaugural dean of the College of Design–Fisher has been a tremendous leader in the public interest design movement, interdisciplinary collaborations in education and digital technology. In the fall, Fisher will be moving on to the position of Dayton Hudson Grant Chair in Urban Design and director of the UMN’s Metropolitan Design Center to address urban-level issues in the Twin Cities region.

Click here to read the announcement on Dean Tom Fisher’s departure, online at